The "It's anecdotal evidence" argument, #1
In a discussion concerning the borderland of identity politics and nationalism - so not a happy place to discuss to begin with, I used eyewitness reports of bad behaviour to support my argument. This was immediately rejected, as it was anecdotal evidence, and the person rejecting it had seen with his own eyes that it did not happen. Sometimes, these discussions are best to walk away from, so I did, but the lack of logic in the response bothered me, so here we are. What was wrong with this situation?
1: I had eyewitness reports of something happening.
2: When reported to others, these were now hearsay, which meant they lost impact.
3: My claim was that these things occasionally happened.
4: The other person had seen more than one situation where these things did not happen.
5: The other person used this to claim that these things never happened.
If I had been acting as a researcher, I would have had proof of the eyewitness reports to offer an ethics committee, but I didn't, so it was still hearsay. I also didn't want to link to the blogs of friends who had experienced this behaviour, so there went that possibility. Why not? Well, this was the internet, and we all know how incredibly horrible people can be online. I'll rather swallow my pride than bring the hater hordes down on friends. This means that I can't really play the fact-card here. The question is, can the person I am arguing against do so?
If we look at the claims, the other party has a much heavier burden of proof to carry than I did. Where I claimed that they occasionally happened, where one or two observations or experiences would be enough, the other person claimed this never happened. They used a hasty generalisation:
Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts. Example:Even though it's only the first day, I can tell this is going to be a boring course.
In this example, the author is basing his evaluation of the entire course on only the first day, which is notoriously boring and full of housekeeping tasks for most courses. To make a fair and reasonable evaluation the author must attend not one but several classes, and possibly even examine the textbook, talk to the professor, or talk to others who have previously finished the course in order to have sufficient evidence to base a conclusion on.
The original topic was something which is impossible to prove from your own experience. Even if you did a thorough research project on it, had observers in every nook and cranny of the country, and asked the entire Norwegian population, report errors, method weaknesses and sheer time and space would work against you. Proving that something has never happened is impossible. The other person could say "This never happens where I am", and that I'd be happy to believe. It still won't disprove the possibility that it could have happened somewhere else.
So what are we left with? This is the Internet, so some methodological wobbling is to be expected. But the kind of keyboard warriors that aim at winning arguments through superior logic don't always have the firmest of grasps. And next time somebody rejects my hearsay, I'll hopefully be able to politely point out that they can doubt my claim, but they can't disprove it.
And yes, this made me feel better, which is what hindsight is all about. Arguing on the Internet is after all good practice in the study of fallacies. And if somebody for some reason recognises the discussion, I am going to admit that my original post was aiming for a slippery slope fallacy - if they mean A, let's just hope they are as aggressive in this thinking when they see B happen.
I stopped at B though, but yeah, it could have ended with banning all cars if I hadn't gotten siderailed by being annoyed at discussion logic. But then, as is the nature of the 'net, the original discussion was a slippery slope as well. If they take this freedom from us, any moment now we will all be brainwashed...Slippery Slope: This is a conclusion based on the premise that if A happens, then eventually through a series of small steps, through B, C,..., X, Y, Z will happen, too, basically equating A and Z. So, if we don't want Z to occur, A must not be allowed to occur either. Example:If we ban Hummers because they are bad for the environment eventually the government will ban all cars, so we should not ban Hummers.In this example, the author is equating banning Hummers with banning all cars, which is not the same thing.